DT Anthony McFarland is big enough to stop the run and quick enough to get to the passer
For a good part of the second half of 2004, the Bucs used second-year end Dewayne White as a defensive tackle. White was something of a pass-rushing revelation inside, contributing six sacks, most while playing his new position.
Later in the season, the Bucs moved White to the starting left end spot and shifted long-time end Greg Spires into the middle. Spires, so productive and solid at left end for Tampa Bay since 2002, also proved adept at the new position, recording 2.5 sacks in his three games there.
Obviously, the Buccaneers were happy to find out that they have a couple viable defensive tackle options playing end; that's a boost to the team's versatility and depth up front. They are happier, however, to have Spires and White back on the edges where they belong in 2005.
The inside is now patrolled by Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan, two proven forces at defensive tackle who were simply not available for most of 2005. McFarland spent the second half of the season on injured reserve due to a shoulder ailment and Hovan was still a Minnesota Viking. In addition, primary 2005 reserve Ellis Wyms, another player who has shown game-changing ability when healthy, was on IR for all but six games last year.
The Bucs looked vulnerable to the run between the tackles at times last season, and finished 19th in the league in rush defense. Fixing the running game on offense and stopping it on defense were goals 1A and 1B this offseason, and as spectacularly as the Bucs have started out on that first pursuit, they've done nearly as well on the second.
Through two games, the Bucs have the league's top rush defense, allowing only 40.0 ground yards per game. The Minnesota Vikings got 18 of their 33 rushing yards on quarterback scrambles. The Buffalo Bills brought star-in-the-making Willis McGahee to Tampa and still gained only 47 yards. Whereas opposing backs used to get several yards past of the line of scrimmage before taking the initial hit, know they are often not even making it to the line of scrimmage before finding a road block.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that we're better right now up front with Hovan, with Wyms and with McFarland," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "Throw in Jermaine Phillips and Dexter Jackson who really weren't here most of the time last year and Juran Bolden, we're a better defensive team than we were a year ago. There's a lot of changing on both sides of the ball, these guys have rallied and come together for the first two weeks."
The Bucs have always been difficult to run outside on, given the lateral speed of the linebackers and the strong tackling of the cornerbacks. Inside, they have emphasized speed and quickness over size, which has led some to believe they will always be vulnerable to the inside running game. However, Hovan and McFarland are far from pushovers; they're big quick men who can shoot the gap and hold the point. If the Bucs continue to plug up the middle, their run defense should remain stout all year. The return of McFarland, largely acknowledged as one of the league's most talented defensive tackles, and the addition of Hovan has made that possible.
"Hovan is a physical one gap football player who has basically played the under tackle his entire career," said Gruden. "We put him in there at nose with McFarland and you have two very active big people who can not only rush the passer, but can get off blocks and make plays for us. Those two guys have been a key to our run defense. Everybody has bought into the fact for us to thrive on defense, we have to shut the run down on first and second down and get the quarterbacks in some third and difficult situations."
Fullback Added to Practice Squad
The Buccaneers created an open spot on their practice squad last Friday when they promoted safety Kalvin Pearson to the active roster following the suspension of rookie fullback Rick Razzano. On Tuesday, they addressed that open spot, and not surprisingly they filled it with a fullback: former Falcon and Colt Carey Davis.
The 5-10, 225-pound Davis first entered the league as an undrafted free agent with Indianapolis in 2004. He briefly appeared on the Colts' active roster as a rookie last year, but finished the year on the Falcons' practice squad. He was then activated for the playoffs and appeared in two postseason contests, racking up three special teams tackles for Atlanta.
Davis went to camp with the Falcons again this summer but was released on August 26.
A St. Louis native, Davis becomes the second fullback out of Illinois on the Bucs' extended roster. Fifth-year veteran Jameel Cook, on the active roster, also played for the Illini.
Get Out the Vote, Part II
Cadillac Williams plans to defend his title.
Last week, after his first NFL game resulted in 148 rushing yards and a touchdown, the Buccaneer back was named the league's Rookie of the Week through a nationwide fan vote. This week, after another stellar performance in the Bucs' win over Buffalo, Williams has been nominated for the award again. If he can beat out Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe, Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton and Seattle linebacker Lofi Tatupu, he'll hold onto the trophy for another week.
To place your vote in the Rookie of the Week competition on NFL.com, please click here.
Off to the fifth-best two-game start by a running back in league history, it's no surprise that Williams is among the five finalists once again. In leading the Bucs to a 19-3 win over the visiting Bills, the former Auburn star ran 24 times for 128 yards and one touchdown. His three-yard TD run in the third quarter came on third down and showed off his power and determination when he spun off a hit at the two-yard line and dove for the end zone.
Williams also had 46 yards on the Bucs' first touchdown drive, which gave the Bucs a 9-0 lead in the second quarter. Though he suffered a left foot sprain on his last carry on that drive, he insisted on returning to the game in the third quarter and immediately ripped off a 19-yard carry. His 31-yard run in the fourth quarter set up a Buccaneer field goal, the game's final score.
Williams has also been nominated for the FedEx Ground Player of the Week award for the second straight week. This award is for all players, not just rookies, and is contested each week between three nominated men. Williams ceded that award to Pittsburgh's Willie Parker after the season openers, but he has another shot now in a vote against Seattle's Shaun Alexander and Chicago's Thomas Jones.
To vote for Williams in the FedEx Ground Player of the Week balloting, please click here.